In honor of President’s Day on Irrelevant Radio, Drew Hystriani, had a special guest, Jan Connell, who was giving some amazing “facts” about George Washington, after which, Hystriani gushed, as he often does, “When will they ever teach these things in school?” To which is the simple answer is, “Never.” Because they didn’t happen.
Although her biography lists her as being a lawyer, Connell seems to mostly be a very credulous apologist for all things Mary. During the show she mentioned a number of things about Washington that caught my ear, I’ll get to the main one in a minute, but first I want to deal with a couple of claims she made about Washington’s religion.
In talking about Washington she referred to Bishop John Carroll as Washington’s “spiritual director.” This was big news to me, and considering that I went to a high school named for Bishop Carroll, it was something I had never heard of. Because there is no truth to it.
While Washington certainly knew Bishop Carroll and was a voice for religious tolerance in the colonies and the new country, it is an enormous stretch, let’s say a falsehood, that Carroll was any kind of spiritual director for Washington. Here is an article about Washington and Catholics, and it makes no reference to an ongoing relationship between Washington and Carroll, which considering this source you would think such a relationship would be found here. But it is not here or in another history I have seen of Washington.
Her next claim was even stronger, and fortunately, even easier to check. Connell said that Washington received last rights from a Catholic priest on his deathbed. It turns out that Washington’s death was very well attended, with three doctors, who given their patient kept extensive notes. Washington never requested any religious intervention on his deathbed and received none.
Washington seems to have been moderately religious in his life. He went to church at about the same rate as modern Americans do, about once a month. He did not speak or write about his religious views in great detail, except to speaqk in favor of religious tolerance, which was not exactly the order of the day. During the Continental Congress sessions, he attended church 3 out of the 7 weeks, but attended a different church each time, an Anglican, Quaker and Catholic church. He did not regularly receive communion in the churches he attended, but that was in keeping with the customs at the time. Famously when a pastor chided the congregation for not receiving communion, Washington was said to not have returned to that church on communion Sundays, but this might be legendary. So, he certainly fell between the extremes of the time, say the Puritans on the one side and the Thomases, Jefferson and Paine on the other.
Finally we get to Connell’s biggest claim, Washington’s secret weapon for winning the Revolutionary War. She says that Washington had a vision that Washington claimed was an angel, but Connell says was really the virgin Mary. In her telling, this vision came to Washington at Valley Forge and it was Mary’s protection that turned the war around and allowed the ragtag continental army to finally defeat the greater British forces. Wow, not only are we a Christian country, but a Catholic one as well!
Well, start those presses up again as there is even less evidence for this claim than her first two. Washington himself gave at least some credit for the turn of fortunes to *ehem* Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense essay (These are the times that try men’s souls, etc.) Washington had read to the troops.
In that and other essays, Paine argued, basically, that in the long run we could not possibly lose a war to Britain that the colonies were committed to. He pointed out (correctly) that the amount of men and material Britain could land on our coast could not possibly outstrip the amount we could supply ourselves. Most military historians would agree with this kind of analysis, I would say.
Trying to claim Washington and by implication the country for a religious group based on made up evidence is pretty low. But what can you expect from a bunch of people who believe that Satan is literally sticking his pitchfork in people’s sides (ouch!). Connell also claims that most other countries have had a vision of Mary at the inception of their independence. I am sure the Chinese will be glad to know this. And she wanted to make sure we had ours too, so she made this stuff up.
If religionists want people to actually believe them, they have to be much more credible than this.
Afterwards Irrelevant Radio ran a promo for an upcoming program which promised to show Van Gogh’s “secret faith.” Sure, he was a great painter, but if they want to claim that nutjob for their own, I say power to them. But keep your hands off people like Washington and Jefferson who surely knew better.